Carrying Out a Risk Assessment

It is compulsory for all businesses to carry out a risk assessment on their premises to ensure that their premises, and the activities they carry out on those premises, are safe. A risk assessment considers what might cause harm and assesses how to protect both customers and employees from the identified risk occurring. Different industries required to provide more indepth risk asssessments depending on the nature of their business. But in general a risk assessment will expect you to:

  1. Look for the hazards – things that might cause slips, trips and falls, working at height, exposure to hazardous substances, fire, explosion, high noise levels and moving vehicles. These are just a few examples.
  2. Determine who might get harmed and in what way (e.g. chef burned by oven)
  3. Consider the risks and decide if adequate provisions are in place to prevent accidents occurring, or whether additional precautions need to be put in place
  4. Record your findings
  5. Review your risk assessment policy from time to time (best practise is at least annually) and update it if necessary, especially if new hazards are introduced to the workplace

Who should undertake a risk assessment?

If you have 5 or more people working at your premises you must put your risk assessment in writing. However, even if you have fewer than 5 people working in your premises, all businesses are still required by law to carry out and maintain regular risk assessments. If you have fewer than 5 employees, you are not required by law to write down your risk assessment, put this is still best practice so that you can evidence your assessment in future should you need to do so.

For a simple way to record your risk assessment, follow the template below:

AreaHazard/RiskPerson at RiskRisk LevelPrecautions in PlaceComments
Kitchen OvenRisk of burns
ChefMedium
  1. Oven gloves provided
  2. First aid kit by sink
  3. All chefs given full training on oven use
Precautions adequate
Kitchen entranceStep up to kitchen
Risk of trips or falls
All staffHighNoneImmediate required actions:
  1. Sign on door/wall
  2. Reflective strip on step edge
  3. Consider if small ramp appropriate

Conducting regular risk assessments may cost more in the short-term, as you spend money to improve conditions, but you will protect yourself from the risk of fines or being sued by an employee or member of the public who might be injured on your premises.

If your business has relatively few risks, you can carry out the assessment yourself but if you have more complicated requirements (such as working with hazardous chemicals), you may want to seek help from a safety specialist or environmental consultant.

Why do I need to prevent hazards?

There are several laws which give you a duty to ensure that your premises are safe. This applies both in respect of keeping your employees and customers safe.

If a customer, visitor or even trespasser injures themselves on your premises, they can claim for their injury under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 or 1984. Personal injury claims can cost your business thousands of pounds) particularly if you do not have Professional Indemnity Insurance). It is therefore extremely important that you regularly inspect your premises to ensure that they are safe. e.g. Repair a cracked or uneven flagstone in your beer garden to prevent tripping accidents.

DID YOU KNOW? To settle a claim for a fractured wrist caused by a trip/fall on average costs approximately £37,000 (not including your own solicitor’s costs).

Of course we hope that by carrying out risk assessments you will not receive any claims against you. If you do, it is extremely important that you notify your insurers as soon as possible, as the claim must be acknowledged within 21 days. If you do receive a claim, send the following documents to your insurer or solicitor as soon as possible:

  • Photographs of the allegedly problem area
  • Inspection records
  • Maintenance records
  • Accident Book records

Common Hazards in the Workplace

Different working environments can pose different hazards but some of the most common ones include a trailing cable, worn carpet, exposed wiring, i.e. things that can be easily spotted. It can be something more general like poor lighting or something specific to your business such as hazardous substances you might use. Other hazards are not so identifiable but must be dealt with just the same, e.g. a slippery surface.

You should try and compartmentalise each hazard and put each one into groups which will enable you to identify most hazards that are prevalent in the workplace. They should be grouped by workplace hazards such as:

  • a workshop’s layout – such as uneven floor or steps
  • activity hazards – such as using a milling machine in your workshop
  • environmental hazards – such as dust and fumes that are given off when using certain items of industrial machinery, which could cause Breathing Problems

How to Spot Hazards

Walk around your business premises and see if you can spot any Potential Hazards. You should also talk to your staff who may be aware of any further potential hazards. It is important that “near misses” (eg trips which do not cause injury) are reported to you to prevent a similar, but more serious accident happening in the future. You can also look at safety data sheets and manufacturers’ instructions to identify potential problem areas, and examine health records and the accident book to identify existing problem areas which need remedying.

Some of the most common hazards are:

1) Slips, trips and falls – falls on uneven, wet or slippy surfaces. These types of injuries are estimated to cost UK employers over £300 million per year, and can often be easily prevented by using clear signage such as wet floor signs.

2) Working at height – e.g. falls from ladders. There are estimated to be over 4000 of these type of accidents a year, which can be easily prevented by using locking ladders, ensuring employees have proper training, and providing simple protective equipment such as a hard hat.

3) Contact with asbestos – causing mesothelioma (a type of respiratory cancer). Whilst most buildings no longer contain asbestos, if you are working with this hazardous substance, it is important that you take extra care and follow industry protocols.

4) Strains and sprains – often caused by lifting heavy objects. These types of injuries are easily prevented by using lifting equipment, or by instigating procedures such as lifting heavy items using several employees.

Evaluating the Risks

Once you’ve identified potential hazards, you must determine the likelihood of each specific hazard causing harm. You’ll need to prioritise each hazard and decide whether the risk of each is low, medium or high. If you decide the risk of a specific hazard causing harm is low, then your existing precautions are probably adequate. If you decide it is medium or high, you should consider taking immediate steps to reduce the risks.

TIP: An instant way to reduce any risk is to communicate the problem – put a sign next to risk to warn people (eg Careful – uneven floor)

Taking Steps to Control the Risks

Ideally, you should be looking to eliminate all risks you have discovered whilst carrying out the assessment. This might include replacing old cabling, substituting hazardous substances for less harmful ones, instigating pollution controls, changing lighting or changing the layout of the workplace. However, it is understandable that not all risks can be completely eradicated. The law states that you should have taken all reasonable measures to eliminate or reduce the risks.

These are just some of the practical steps you might wish to consider, although there are many more. Other ways to reduce risks are:

  • improving communication in the workplace
  • encourage more discussion between employees and their managers about potential risks
  • develop better training procedures

For more details on how to carry out a full risk assessment of your workplace, visit the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) website.

Carrying out a risk assessment may seem time-consuming and reducing risks costly. However this will keep your workers and customers safe and ensure you comply with the law, reducing the risk of having to pay to settle costly claims.

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